Sri Lanka’s first underwater museum opens

Sri Lanka’s first underwater museum was opened by Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva off the shores of Galle on April 5.

This underwater museum was built off the Galle shores under the close supervision of the Navy Commander, upon a proposal by Prime MinisterMahinda Rajapaksa.

The initial plan was to utilise unusable train compartments and construct an underwater museum. However, due to the lack of such train compartments, the museum was designed and created by the Navy utilising sculptures and other artifacts. This also serves as an underwater structure, typically built to promote marine life in areas with a generally featureless bottom, to control erosion, block ship passage, block the use of trawling nets, or improve surfing.

This effort by the Sri Lanka Navy to create this underwater museum initially planned on reconstructing Sri Lanka’s cultural monuments, but as this was a sensitive issue religiously, this idea had to be scrapped.

Many coral reefs are built using objects that have been built for other purposes, for example by submerging oil rigs, dredging ships or using construction debris. Other artificial reefs are made mainly from PVC or concrete. Shipwrecks can become artificial reefs when stored on the seabed. Regardless of the method of development, artificial reefs generally provide a hard surface where algae and invertebrates, such as barnacles, corals, and oysters, thrive; the accumulation of marine life inherent in turn provides complex structures and food for fish assemblies.

The construction work was carried out utilising the manpower of the Sri Lanka Navy. This special museum is located off the shores of Galle, which attracts a large number of both local and foreign tourists. Further, a large collection of artifacts and sculptures made by Navy has been placed here.

Though artificial reefs have been used for centuries as defensive structures, breakwaters and to attract fish, the typical reason modern reefs are built is to increase available habitat for coral and fish. All the statues are handmade by the Navy personnel, unique, made of concrete and are completely eco-friendly and will promote the formation of corals which over time, will increase its beauty. The whole underwater story is set at a depth of around 50 feet in the Galle Harbour area providing a unique sightseeing experience for anyone – children and adults, experienced divers, complete scuba beginners, as well as for ordinary swimmers. Due to the overall experience provided by the site’s attractions, this will definitely provide a unique experience to both locals and foreigners alike and will certainly draw in foreign income for the country.

The Navy said that while the site has been created by them, anyone can visit the underwater museum through any recognised diving school. However, the underwater museum cannot be viewed using scuba gear, but can be reached using diving gear including oxygen tanks.

Marking another milestone in the annals of Sri Lanka Navy, the Navy Commander who is a veteran in underwater diving, opened this first-ever underwater museum by cutting the ribbon. Speaking on the occasion, the Navy Commander expressed his thanks to the Southern Naval Area Commander, Rear Admiral Kassapa Paul and other officers and sailors of the command for playing a praiseworthy role during the construction of this mega project.

It is also believed that this underwater sculpture park will contribute greatly to the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, which is starting to thrive following the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had made a request to the Navy to construct an underwater museum utilising discarded train compartments and fishing vessels. His idea was to create such a site which would also serve as a fish-breeding site enabling fishermen to fish in these areas and improve their economic standards. Accordingly, the Navy looked into the possibility of this venture with the blessings of the Defence Secretary Mag. Gen. (Rtd) Kamal Gunaratne.

“We managed to complete this project under a very short period and since it was not possible to source the discarded train compartments and boats at such short notice, we changed the concept and came up with this design comprising plaques and sculptures and replicas of artifacts similar to the underwater museum in Cancun, Mexico. I am sure we were able to construct Sri Lanka’s first underwater museum similar to the one in Mexico,” the Navy Commander said. The underwater museum in Mexico has a total of 500 sculptures, most by the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor and the others by five Mexican sculptors, with three different galleries submerged between three and six metres (9.8 and 19.6 ft ) deep in the ocean at the Cancún National Marine Park.

“Our main aim was to promote the regeneration of corals and promote fish breeding and it is very encouraging to see that the fish breeding has already started in this underwater museum site. Hence, at the next season, I am certain that tourists would be able to dive in this area and the surrounding hotels would be able to add this site to their list of attractions that will no doubt serve to improve their income and be beneficial for the country’s tourism industry as well. The discarded concrete for this project was given to us by two companies and this definitely served as a value addition,” Rear Admiral Piyal de Silva added.

The Navy Commander said that plans have also been drawn for the establishment of two other underwater marine museums in Trincomalee and Tangalle in the future and invited those in the construction trade to assist the Navy by providing them large discarded concrete slabs which could be utilised for the construction of such underwater objects. He added that this project will certain promote the breeding of fish which would also indirectly help the fishing trade to boost the fish stocks in the seas around the country.

However, he urged the fishermen not to fish in this area at this point and to allow the fish breeding to take place where they could reap its benefits in the future.

He said that once the underwater museums are established in Trincomalee and Tangalle, diving enthusiasts could visit the Trincomalee underwater museum during the South-East Monsoon season and the Tangalle museum during the North-East monsoon period.

The Navy Commander’s two sons Yehan and Dulina had also played a key role in establishing the country’s first underwater museum in the country. As the Navy Commander is a diving expert himself, this project would definitely be the most fulfilling task he has undertaken as the Commander of the Navy and he will definitely be remembered for his contribution in years to come.